“It Ain’t the House You Grew Up In”
….or, “How I got to this place with things to say”. Dad was a brilliant man and my inspiration. The quintessential Depression Baby with a sixth-grade education and the mind of Einstein. At least Einstein from my 8-year-old vantage at the time. Certainly, remarkable in all aspects. I tell people that there are those you can give a bushel of lemons and they’ll have a lemonade business on the corner in a couple days. Give my dad a bushel of lemons and he’d have a processing plant and multi-city distribution network within the week. Not what one might expect from a country boy out of Little River, SC. Frankly, I could write about him for hours. For now, I need to maintain my focus. Suffice to say, this guy could build anything, using anything. He practiced thinking outside the box and encouraged us to do same. “Us” being my two brothers and my sister. I was the squirt and his favorite. At least as far as you know. Everybody is gone now but me. So, you’ll never really know, will you? Be warned, we’re of proud Irish-Catholic descent and marginally colorful. Not a particular source of pride but moreover a content rating of sorts. It takes every fiber of my being to keep this PG. I’m lucky if it stays an “R” rating. Dad doesn’t get credit for this so much as Mom. She was, as we like to say in the South, plain spoken. Hence, I’m a touch plain spoken. But, forgive me, I digress. Dad imparted that gift of problem solving to me and I couldn’t get enough. He also taught me to use tools and understand the capabilities of the materials available to us. Working with him was always an adventure that resulted in some extraordinary thing being born from it. Sometimes it was a house, or an intense landscaping project, maybe a custom retail display rack or a modification to a truck to carry some weird-ass equipment. Did I mention he only had a sixth-grade education? This guy was the bomb. Dry as hell and funny beyond measure. He could have you rolling on the floor and never crack a smile. He made learning to use your hands a mission of joy.
He had another side too. When I was just a little kid, he worked for a large franchise group out of New York. Dad routinely commuted from Jax., FL to NY city every week. He was VP of development for new franchise concepts. Not too shabby for a farm boy from the sticks. I remember he had this nifty case, about the size of a Buick (remember, I was 8), that had a portable tabletop drafting board and a parallel bar with triangles and scales and all the interesting architect’s tools I couldn’t touch. He did have to leave the room on occasion. I was a good kid but, damn, some stuff just had to be touched. What I remember most is him sitting at the dining room table and creating these fabulous conceptual drawings of prototype buildings for drive-thru dairy stores and the new rage, photo shops. He was using new materials and concepts like prefabricated metal panels with built-in insulation and bright, vibrant colors. He did all of this with no formal training and a box of colored pencils. This was the 1960’s! You might see my fascination at this point. Now do you get why I could talk about him for hours?
Please know that Mom figures in here prominently as well. Regarding our discussion, she doesn’t get top-billing but rest assured, she was a huge part of the picture. First, she was a damn Yankee (dark family secret). A 5’4” Catholic girl from Philadelphia. If it was on her mind, it usually fell out of her mouth with minimal resistance. We called her “the little Sherman Tank”. Makes sense; she was let’s say…diminutive compared to all of us at 6’ plus except my sister at a mere 5’11”. Keeping us in line was a sheer act of will. Keeping her from going off the rails was Dad. It was a collaboration. Very Irish. Other than being a great partner to my Dad, like Dad, Mom was a great encourager to try without regard to failure. The road to success is often paved with the success, and failure of others. We just add to the pavement.